Daily Law Tips (Tip 646) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)

An act that is void, lacks legal consequence and has no powers or relevance is a nullity. Although a nullity may be culturally, religiously, morally, logical or modernly right, correct and accepted, they are legally invalid and unacceptable. This work examines the attitude of Nigerian courts towards invalid transactions/nullities.

Part of being a human is being logical and law abiding. Where there are set down legal process for doing things, such process must be followed for there to be a valid transaction. Where there are mandatory statutory conditions leading to a result/transaction, any purported result/transaction without the approved conditions cannot be a true result/transaction rather a waste and nullity. It is an invalid transaction. Imagine, a court relying on a repealed/abolished law to convict a defendant or a man that never contested in an election approaching an election tribunal to be declared winner or a man seeking the benefits of marriage from a woman he never married. These three instances will lead to nothing but nullity, waste of resources and invalid transactions.

To better understand “Nullity”, below are the words of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Court of Appeal.
“The term “nullity” was described thus: ”Nothing; no proceeding; an act or proceeding in a case which the opposite party may treat as through it had not taken place; or which has absolutely no legal force or effect.” See Black Law Dictionary Special Deluxe 5th Edition, page 963. In Okafor v. A-G., Anambra State (1991) 6NWLR (Pt.200)659, it was held that a nullity is in law, an act which is void and lacking of any legal effect or consequence whatsoever. It is beyond remedy. ” Per NGWUTA ,J.S.C ( P. 15, paras. C-F ) in the case of LASISI v. STATE (2013) LPELR-20715(SC)

“Also Lexicon Webster Dictionary at page 650 also defines nullity to mean: “The state or fact of brief null, nothingness, invalidity, something null, specifically that which has no legal force or validity.” The totality of the above definition is that whatever is nullified absolutely does not exist and cannot be referred to as being in existence. It is a state of nothingness. It is something that has no legal force.” Per ABBA AJI ,J.C.A ( Pp. 29-30, paras. E-B ) in the case of PPA & ANOR v. INEC & ORS (2009) LPELR-4864(CA)

“In the case Okafor & Ors. v. A.G. & Commissioner for Justice & Ors. (1991) LPELR – 2414 (SC) page 30 this court held thus of nullity:- “A nullity is in law a void act, an act which has no legal consequence. The act is not only bad, and as was stated by Denning L. J. in U.A.C. Ltd. v. Macfoy (1961) 3 All ER. 1169, is incurably bad.” Per CLARA BATA OGUNBIYI ,J.S.CÂ ( P. 59, paras. G-B ) in the case of ODEDO v. PDP & ORS (2015) LPELR-24738(SC)

“To assuage the feelings of the appellant in this respect, it is apt to remind him of the pronouncement of Lord Denning about five decades ago in the case of MacFoy v. U. A .C Ltd. (1962) A. C. 150 at page 160. It goes as follows:- “If an act is void, then it is in law a nullity. It is not only bad, but incurably bad. There is no need for an order of the Court to set it aside. It is automatically null and void without much ado, though it is sometimes convenient to have the Court declare it to be so.” Per JOHN AFOLABI FABIYI ,J.S.C ( Pp. 54-55, paras. E-A ) in the case of BARIGHA v. PDP & ORS (2012) LPELR-19712(SC)

“The position of the law therefore is that every proceeding, which is founded on a void act is also bad and incurably bad. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there: Macfoy v. U.A.C. Ltd. (1962) AC 152 at 160.” (DISSENTING). Per ALOYSIUS IYORGYER KATSINA-ALU ,J.S.C ( P. 49, paras. B-C ) in the case of SALEH v. MONGUNO & ORS (2006) LPELR-2992(SC)

In conclusion, anything that is an invalid transaction/nullity is automatically and irretrievably bad, unacceptable and a huge waste. Nothing good can come from it and any one relying on it, is like one attempting to walk on a sea. Hence, the Nigerian courts do not need to declare a nullity, for an invalid transaction to come a nullity. Nullities and invalid transactions are self-bound, self created and self destructive without any benefits or order of a court.

My authorities are:

1. Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of BARIGHA v. PDP & ORS (2012) LPELR-19712(SC)
2. Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of ODEDO v. PDP & ORS (2015) LPELR-24738(SC)
3. Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of LASISI v. STATE (2013) LPELR-20715(SC)
4. Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of SALEH v. MONGUNO & ORS (2006) LPELR-2992(SC)
5. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of PPA & ANOR v. INEC & ORS (2009) LPELR-4864(CA)

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